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Book Discussion on The Syria Dilemma

Editors Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel discuss ``The Syria Dilemma.''

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U.s. 24, Us 12, Iraq 11, Geneva 9, United States 8, U.n. 7, Danny 6, Bashar Al-assad 5, Afghanistan 4, Obama 4, France 4, Isis 3, Etc. 3, Chicago 3, Nabeel 3, United Nations 3, Assad 2, Syria 2, Syrians 2, Ryan Crocker 2,
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  CSPAN    Book Discussion on The Syria Dilemma    Editors Nader Hashemi and Danny  
   Postel discuss ``The Syria Dilemma.''  

    March 2, 2014
    7:15 - 8:20am EST  

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reunions and things like that. so we didn't talk much minute it -- talk much about it until the last two years of his life. my dad passed away in 2011. when we went through his things and found this artwork, we were surprised to see how much other writing and photographs and keepsakes, memorabilia that he had kept for nearly 70 years. and inside of this was a variety of notebooks, flight logs, ledgers, even my grandmother's scambook that had -- scrapbook that had all this newspaper clippings and photos. a lot of the firsthand accounts that he had kept on old envelopes and manila pages were still intact and still in there. very difficult to read at this point, but they were fascinating, and after struggling through them to try to figure out exactly what they were saying, i was able to kind of piece together a story over
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some time. and it took me a lot of research with navy records of the black cats to kind of jive what he had written and what the real war diary was and finally managed to put the tombline together through the use of -- timeline together through the use of all these various pieces. i was surprised. i had no idea he'd been through so much, and i was also surprised to find out as much as i have about the black cats in general. it was a remarkable group and really one of the least-told stories of world war ii, just their significance to the whole thing. everything from rescues to just becoming this stealth aircraft that nobody had seen the likes of before. one of the first to use radar, or for instance. one of the first to have an altimeter so they could fly low over the water and be virtually invisible. fascinating stuff, and i didn't know any of that. i feel like it's a tribute to
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the black cats and to dad, first of all. they both deserve it. and any opportunity you have to tell, tell a story like this, it's just an important opportunity. and i also feel like it's been a great opportunity to meet veterans, world war ii veterans in particular, and i've met four black cats now. three and about to meet the fourth. one who actually knew and flew with my dad -- let me correct that, two who actually knew and flew with my dad. and they found out about it more or less from the book. so that's been a real important, you know, side effect of the whole thing. but one of the most satisfying things is just meeting other people and maybe even the book has inspired them to go ahead and talk to their own parents or loved one who may have served
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and kind of capture that narrative and have an opportunity to save a legacy before it's gone forever. and if i can inspire some of these people through this book to do that, that's been worth it all by itself. >> for more information on booktv's recent visit to salem, oregon, and the many other cities visited but our local content vehicles, go to c-span.org/localcontent. >> nader hashemi and danny postel are next on booktv. they talk about the humanitarian crisis in syria and discuss what the international community is doing about it and what still needs to be done. this is a little over an hour. [applause] >> well, good evening, even, and thanks -- everybody, and thanks for the warm hand and your warm presence here on such a cold
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evening. finish i was after rachel to introduce the three of us as the brass owe brothers -- [laughter] but being chicago -- this being chicago, we figured maybe that wasn't such a good idea, somebody might take us seriously. but john likes it. it's nice to begin with a little bit of a light hearted comment, and i hope to remember at the end to make another lighthearted comment maybe. because everything else in between is not lighthearted at all. we've all been following the syria crisis from three years ago when it started out as a peaceful uprising to a civil war to regional war, and fumely i think to a full-blownside. full-blown genocide. i don't know, i don't use that
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word lightly, but i don't know what else to call it when a government, armed to the teeth, is throwing everything it has at most of it population. its civilian population primarily. yes, there are groups foughting the government now -- fighting the government now, and that's primarily due to the way the government dealt with the up -- the unarmed protesters at the gunning three years ago. at the beginning three years ago. the u.n. has stopped counting dead bodies at 120,000. and it's partly because there's, it's not an easy task when you're not on the ground and high-rise buildings are falling to count how many are dying. so -- and partly, i'm sure, because it's macabre after a certain number to keep counting. by my own estimate, i think we're probably at 150,000 dead
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right now. by way of comparison, it took the lebanese 15 years of bloody civil war to get to that number of dead people. it's taken bashar assad's killing pa chien three years -- machine three years. now, not just my estimate, but many other analysts who look at this project that if nothing happens, no super power intervenes to do something soars about stopping this war -- serious about stopping this war, it could easily go on for another ten years. so take this 150,000 and multiply it, and you do the math. and tell me, is this genocide or this is not genocide. now, i am stunned personally, and i'm tired of writing about the u.s. national interest. i started three years ago in government, and now out of government, saying it is in the u.s. national interests to do
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something in syria. i i put aside the humanitarian argument because you can't convince people to do the right thing, but you can convince them to do what is in their interest to do. well, apparently i failed and others have failed on both counts. but the humanitarian one, it gets to a point where you can't ignore it anymore. i mean, what does it say about us when we have seen and we've looked at holocaust, we've studied the holocaust. there are all kinds of programs to make sure this doesn't happen again. you have 9/11 and all of us remember it. you know? two buildings dropped to the ground to rubble and 3,000 people died. imagine if what happened in 9/11 is happening every day, not just that once. it happened once mt. u.s., and and none of -- in the u.s., and
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none of us can forget it. these bombs that are being dumped by the syrian government on high-rise buildings in homs right now and other places in syria, imagine if you are sitting here in chicago our nice high-rise buildings, these womans are dropping on them -- these bombs are dropping on them every day. this is what the citizens of syria are living through. what kind of a world do we live in that we don't, that the world doesn't fall over itself to stop this massacre from continuing? i think i've said enough, but i need to get this off my chest. and i hope this stimulates the discussion here. one thing that i would like to start with, danny, is when something is international interest to be done and it is doable without a huge investment and, by the way, it is the right
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thing to do and it still doesn't get done, what is the problem? >> this is exactly why our book, nabeel, is titled "the syria dilemma," because we do not see a very clear cut, black and white answer to the nightmare, and it really is a nightmare, along the lines you've just described. we're talking about suffering on such a mass scale in syria that's only getting worse. one of the ironies of the impasse at the pped of august and early -- end of august and early september in the aftermath of the chemical weapons attack, the proposed u.s. strike on syria in response to that attack and then the russian deal to solve this problem, one of the ironies is that assad actually
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emerged much stronger from that what seemed like a crisis. he has emerged as a much more formidable flair on -- player on the geopolitical stage. the killing has actually increased, violence has deepened. suns late august, early -- since late august, early september with no end in sightment we're now i in a situation where i would only add to the that you shared. this mass starvation going on in syria. the united nations is now estimating that possibly as many as 800,000 syrians are currently living in these starvation seemings. that is to say these besieged areas of the country where they're trapped. humanitarian ailed workers
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cannot get in to deliver food and medicine that are vitally needed, people are on the brink of or starvation, children are dying of malnutrition, people are literally eating grass, weeds and roots. the new york times today quoted one gentleman in i believe in one of the besieged areas as saying that on a good day we might have a few olives or a spoonful of bolger. many people have already died under these seemings, starved to death -- seemings, starved to death, but as many as 800,000 could be on the brink of star vegas. they can't get out, and humanitarian aid workers can't get in with food and medicine. in addition to the starvation, you have the outbreak of polio after polio was, essentially, ed rad candidated, now you have the
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outbreak of polio. the -- eradicated. the outbreak of polio in syria really shames the civilized world. what is happening? so what is to be done? these areas are besieged, they're surrounded mostly by assad's forces, in some cases by extremist militias. my own view is we might not be able after three years of the geopolitical go with around after negotiations now two rounds of negotiations and a new one starting today, yesterday. we don't have an answer, we don't have a solution to the syrian crisis at large, but if you could just break off one piece of it which is what our op-ed that will be out in tomorrow morning's new york times tries to do, if you could just look at the one crisis
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where syrian civilians, these are unarmed noncombatants and they are dying, they're starving to death. >> and this is just the opportunity of the iceberg, isn't it? this is the worst part in a way because of the starvation and the way these people are under siege. but, again, u.n. figures estimate six million internally displaced persons. and these people are living sometimes in other areas, sometimes under shelter, sometimes just out in the open. and that's the bigger problem in a humanitarian way that's still coming down the pike. starvation hasn't hit those six million. it's on its way. another -- my, go back a bit to
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my original question. i mean, danny mentioned a bit that as add emerged stronger -- assad emerged stronger after these began and after the u.s. first called up the fleet and then pulled it back. is assad's strength factor here in why the u.s. doesn't do anything by way of a bold action to get this stopped. >>? >> no, i would argue. i think the main reason why the united states has not gotten involved is because of one word, iraq. we are a war-weary country of after iraq, after afghanistan. anyone who sort of thinks of another u.s. military engagement in the middle east sort of looks at that possible scenario through the prism of iraq, and that's completely understandable. but we've had a debate in this country primarily at the end of august, early september over what should be done about syria after the chemical weapons
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attack. it looked like obama wanted to get involved. and there was many people who argued that, look, you know, syria -- as tragic as the human rights catastrophe is, really doesn't immediately affect american national interest. it can be contained within the borders of syria. and so, you know, our heart bleeds for human suffering, but as a war-weary nation, it's just not in our national interests, the argument goes, to take the steps that are needed to try and intervene and steer this conflict around. well, i have news to tell everyone in this room, syria is now a matter of u.s. national security. and that's not my assessment. leaving aside the fact that now syria's destabilizing lebanon, jordan, iraq, the europeans now are deeply concerned about syria because syria now is a national security, you know, crisis for the europeans. there are, according to some reports, about 1200 angry marginalized muslim men who have
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traveled to sur ya to join -- syria to join various militia groups. what happens when they return? james clapper, the director of national intelligence in this country, just released a statement saying there are 7,000 foreign fighters in syria from 50 different cups, and he explicitly stated that syria now is a national security crisis for this country. of the secretary of homeland security has made a statement just on friday. so those people who argue that syria is really a conflict over there, it doesn't affect us, the syrian conflict has now had ripple effects all the way to southeast asia. in indonesia there was a report just on -- in "the new york times" on january 31st saying similar processes sort of leading to huge security concerns, and this is a lesson that we, you know, should have learned as a result of 9/11, you know? to sort of ignore countries far away thinking that they don't affect us in this globalized world and we can just, you know, turn away.
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i'm referring to afghanistan back then. well, that's wishful thinking. syria today is the new afghanistan. if you're not persuaded by human rights, the moral and human catastrophe that syria has become, massive war crime, state-sanctioned war crimeses, crimes against humanity, if that's not enough to persuade you, then i think there are very strong and compelling national security arguments that should persuade you. and don't take my word for it. listen to what james clapper is saying, listen to what the secretary of homeland security is saying. syria, now, is becoming a crisis for the world. >> u.s. interests are definitely implicated in terms of the impact, spillover of syria on regional friends and allies of the u.s. it's also been determined by president obama early on that helping the transition towards democracy many in the region is this the -- in the region is in the u.s. national interests. it's not just the right thing to do. so that also is there. but, danny, when people say,
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well, it doesn't reach u.s. shores in any way, is that correct? when we talk about the regional friends and allies, that's indirect. and when we talk about democracy, that's debatable. people will tell you, hey, that's not democrat, etc. but is it true that this doesn't reach u.s. shores at all? >> that's debatable and is being debated. but i think what's interesting is what conclusions is one to draw from the picture that nader just drew, thissicture that -- this picture that our intelligence agencies are paying more and more attention to the al-qaedaization, the jihaddization of the syrian nightmare. for example, ambassador ryan crocker draws the conclusion that -- precisely because of this islamization and radicalization of the syrian conflict, the united states should reconsider its relationship with president assad and actually see him as a
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potential ally in the war on terror and the fight against al-qaeda. >> was he forgetting when -- what he is he forgetting when he says thatsome. >> no one knows more about this than you to, nabeel, because you wrote a very effective takedown of ambassador crocker's argument in the los angeles times. >> during the war when we till had troops -- still had troops in iraq, bashar al assad had his own wing of al-qaeda inside syria that were facilitating foreign fighters going into iraq. these foreign fighters coming from yemen, from pakistan, from afghanistan were going from syria into iraq and were killing u.s. soldiers. and when we told the syrian government that this is happening and we named names and say arrest these people, they said, oh, don't worry, this is
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just our way of infiltrating al-qaeda to keep them under control. and when we knew of certain things that were actually going to happen, attacks as a result of these people that supposedly the syrian government controlled and they wouldn't do anything about it, you had the at one point secret raid into is -- into syria that is now all over media, all over the media right after, in fact. and it was a raid by u.s. forces into syria to kill this guy, and you can find him this wikipedia and places like that. and that is because we knew exactly what he was up to, and we told the syrians, and syrians wouldn't do anything about it. so this was a case where american lives were directly touch so muched by bashar's -- directly touched by bashar's
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links to al-qaeda and his sponsoring certain branches offal dude. >> and there are now reports that assad's regime is coordinating directly with al-qaeda forces in syria in their battles against the free syrian army. we are now in a situation where there's a three-way war. this is no longer a two-sided conflict between the assad regime and "the rebels." there's really no such thing as "the rebels" as such anymore. it is now a three-way war in effect with assad and his killing machine this one corner, the free syrian army -- loosely speaking -- in another and now the third force which is the forces, and there are many shades of al-qaeda and various militant islam u.s. factions who sometimes -- islamist factions who sometimes fight each other. and this is not a distinction to be drawn on paper, there are
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actually battles between militia and these al-qaeda forces. now, we don't know, no smoking gun a that i'm aware of pointing to direct coordination by the assad regime. we might discover very soon that there is. those are claims that the syrian op to decision are making, but what we do know is that objectively whether he's involved this coordinating it or not to, he benefits from it. this is a dream scenario for the assad regime, to have al-qaeda rising in influence, fighting, battling it out with the original democratically-minded forces within the syrian opposition -- >> danny, it's actually more than just accusations by the opposition, because when you've had your own deeply-embedded al-qaeda and network for years, it doesn't just go away like that. >> are right. >> so it has to still be there operating.
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smoking gun or not depends on who's looking and where they're looking sphwhrcht yeah. i mean, there's a deeper political point that's been lost in the conversation about the rise of political extremism in syria manifested in al-qaeda. and that's the point that, you know, al-qaeda just didn't emerge from a vacuum in syria. there is a deep and intimate connection between the tail your of -- the failure of political democratization processes and the rise of political extremism. and the relationship is basically one of inverse proportion. the more that there's a possibility, a hope, a serious process of pursuing political transition and opening up of the political space, the more that that sort of moves up, the less there is a chance for be political extremism such as al-qaeda to gain a foothold. and the more that political extremism goes up, the that means that the chances and prospects for extremism has
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diminished. that's one of broad lessons of arab spring. al-qaeda had no resonance, no message, nothing to offer to the people. it's not a coincidence that the tunisian presence of political extremism is very marginal. the lesson of egypt really is that as democratization has diminished after coup d'etat, you see an upsurge in violence. and the case of syria is a case study in this. in the first year of the uprising there was no al-qaeda, there was no presence. but as a result of, you know, policy choices that were made by the international community to effectively abandon the syrian people and leave them at the mercy of the assad regime, this conflict has gotten out of hand, there's no opportunity, no hope, there's no prospects for meaningful political change. and so we're predict t my seeing the rise of various islamist groups, some of them moderate,
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some of them extremist. so it was completely predictable from beginning that this would happen. had there been a serious chance to sort of shift this conflict in the direction of a political resolution, a transition to political power, then i would argue that the prospects of al-qaeda coming in -- it wouldn't completely aknew rate it -- annihilate it, but it would be diminished. we shouldn't simply have a conversation about al-qaeda as this is something in the dna of people of syria. it's happening because of political circumstances and choices that were made by the relevant political actors. >> it's a good point. when we start saying, okay, it's not just al-qaeda, there are different groups, or different shades, etc., of extremism. danny, what is the situation on the ground? i mean, who is fighting how many will and -- whom there, and how's the fight going? >> well, it's extremely complex, and it's a mess. but i think, actually, the
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increasingly confrontational nature of this double sort of battle going on, the fact that you have actual shooting battles between ultra islamist factions -- some associated with al-qaeda -- and the free syrian army, i think, brings enormous clarity and also gives the lie to those claims that you hear really bandied about rather cavalierly these days which is this common view that's emerging that, well, you know, the international community can't do anything because if assad falls, al-qaeda takes over, you know? the it's either assad or al-qaeda. that's the ryan crocker view. it's also the assad regime's view. that's actually been the assad regime's narrative from today one when it was entirely false,
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when it was a nonviolent, non seq. tape, broadly democratic uprising that represented a real cross-section of syrian society. i mean, you look at those original seven to eight months of the uprising, there were many christians involved in the protests. there weral a whites, there were kurds, there were secular u.s.es. that has now -- asaws add that time was -- assad at that time from day one was saying this is an extremist, al-qaeda, foreign conspiracy. it was wrong then, but he intentionally made it less wrong ever today. partly by opening his jails and letting some of the, some of the islamists he had behind bars out onto the streets. >> they weren't all in jail either. >> well, that's right. but these, vacuum that nader just described, the bloodbath, okay? because it was a completely one-way, now we're at a three-way war. for a while it was a two-way war
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n. the first eight months, it was a one-way war. it was a nonviolent protest movement being toured upon with louvre ammunition -- fired upon with live ammunition, with bombing of bread lines, sniper fire. of it was a one-way violence, and that, i think, really led to this, the arming of the revolution. but i think to get back to your question, it is a very complicated situation on the ground. my, the only silver lining, perhaps, is that there's more clarity now. i don't think you can say that the entire rebel movement has been islamized or taken over by al-qaeda when you have actual shooting battles going on between nonislam u.s.es, nonal-qaeda forces and these isis and other forces. it's very clear that there is a major war of position taking place between these factions, and i think it matters who wins and who's got the upper hand. >> nader, is there any credibility to say ising, oh, my
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god, al-qaeda could take over syria and then you'd have a syria ruled by al-qaeda in is there any credibility at all -- >> no, i think that's exaggerated. we have to realize that among all the rebel groups, they're still on the extreme endment they are getting a lot of funding, they are sort of fierceless fighters. they may be with able to hold a particular town but, of course, they can do that because there's no force opposing them to kick them out. the scenario that danny just mentioned, it happened last month, it happened today where there's been these rival clashes where a group of militias organized against al-qaeda have organized and pushed hem out of town. that's without any support. imagine what could happen theoretically if there was serious, you know, credible backing of the more moderate elements of the syrian rebel movement in the free syrian army. i think they could sort of, they could sort of turn this war around. not overnight, but i think the recent events that i just referenced suggest that there's some room for optimism.
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so i think, you know, we have to be careful. al-qaeda does have this sort of stranglehold on people's imagination, very understandable given what happened in 9/11, but we shouldn't give them m i think -- more, i think, attention than they actually deserve. >> i think to date al-qaeda has not ruled over any country in the region or out of the region. the strongest branch of al-qaeda is al-qaeda in the arabian peninsula which is mainly in yemen. and at one point it looked like they had aspirations to rule the country and actually raise the flag over a certain town. and i chuckled because then i said, okay, tell us where you are. as soon as they raised that flag, local and other forces collapsed on them. so they thrive as an upside -- underground movement and many situations of chaos. >> right. and you see that in syria.
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the syrian people in any context in syria now where there has been, where al-qaeda has made headway with. there's pushback both from the free syrian army and from the is citizens of various areas of the country. they do not want this. you hear over and over syrians say that kind of islam is not us. that's not syria, that's not syrians. >> and we saw this in iraq, didn't we? in places where they became influential, the people turned against them because hay rule like thugs. -- they rule like thugs. they don't have the infrastructure to form a government. so way they control the streets is through brute force and very, very harsh values. >> absolutely. they're unrepresentative of the syrian struggle, but they are disproportionately influential because they're better funded, frankly, with their private
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foundations sources in the gulf which is a huge issue i think that needs more anticipation. more anticipation. and they get more attention because they have a spectacular, they have an ability to produce something tack lahr events on the ground. but i think at the end of the day the number of people who support al-qaeda factions in syria versus the number of people who would support a, you know, the free syrian with army right now or a democratic transition in syria that does not involve al-qaeda is enormous. but that's, you know, this remains -- this leaves a very big practical problem which is what if, let's say, assad were toppled either from within or from without. be assad were to go tomorrow which he cheerily isn't but let's just say he were, you would have a very serious problem on your happened. you would probably have a civil war between the remaining two factions, the al-qaeda-affiliated factions and the nonal-qaeda-affiliated
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factions. it could go on for a long time. you'd have, i mean, all of the syrian activists talk about having a program to get rid of the foreign fighters. how does one dislodge them? they have now set up shop in a way that's rather formidable -- enter which highlights the fact that the longer drags on, the much more complicated it is to try and bring about a solution and to, you know, patch it back together, at least promote some sort of stabilization plan. it gets more complicated. >> so, i mean, if there is an agreement on a transitional government that represents all the different factions in syria, let's say geneva by some miracle succeeds in getting the sides that are talking to each other to form a transitional government, what would happen next? how would that transitional government act to improve the security situation? >> well, i mean, it's a good question. it's a hypothetical question. but i think one of the key elements in any, i think, peace plan has to be not simply
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establishing a transitional government that leads syria to a post-assad situation, but there has to be a security plan in place as well. we don't want to see, you know, further chaos particularly one of the legitimate concerns is there are, you know, minority groups will that deserve protection. that has to be built into, that's why i personally as much as i support, you know, strong intervention to turn the tide of the war for many of the reasons that we've been talking about, it's not simply enough. of it's not simply a question of, or you know, launching missile strikes and taking out assad's air force, there has to be a package deal in place that is partly military that also calls for, you know, respect and protection of minority rights but also has a stabilization plan and a plan for economic reconstruction. in many ways, the model i think perhaps could work here, one that's worth considering is, you know, the challenges that were facing the clinton administration 20 years ago with respect to the balkansment massive human suffering, in that case it was genocide. more three years the world
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looked away, then it started to get out of of control. there's people here who know the story much better than i do, but then finally after three years, you know, clinton decided to get involved and to his credit, you know, no one is dying in boss any ca today. now, it's far from a perfect situation, and one can sort of look back, and i personally have sort of a lot of criticism of the dayton plan, but one of good things that happened because of u.s. leadership was that part of the world was turned around. and so, and the plan that was put in place was a political solution. it involved military intervention, but with it also had a political arrangement, you know, integrated within the entire package. so i think if syria is going to be turned around, we need something similar. but none of that, of course, will happen unless there is leadership that can only come from this country. >> the worst part, the worst group among the extremists is isis, the islamic state in iraq
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and syria. and this is more than 90% composed of foreign fight beers. >> right. >> so thiess you get the sir grabs -- at least you get the syrians to agree on a transitional government and steps forward. they can deal with the foreigners among them. >> right. >> it's a big security challenge. but then once they're unified and agreed on a way forward, they can take care of isis. the latest news is already, by the way, that isis is falling back from some of the areas which they -- >> yeah. they benefit from the chaos and the insecurity that's sort of, you know, characterizing syria. so once there's an alternative in place, i think they will be isolated. >> all rightment i think we've covered a lot of humanitarian and political issues here, so why don't we use the rest of our time so that audience can jump in and tell us what's on their minds. >> great. >> [inaudible] >> as for usual, please wait for
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me to recognize you. my colleagues are here with mics, and we'll try to get as many questions as we can. we'll start right here with terry diamond right here in the front. >> nabeel, you gave a hypothetical that there was a successful mediation. let's take the other hypothetical that it's not a successful mediation, and this is addressed to the three of you. if you were, the if each of you were in a position to intervene or to try and do something to prevent this humanitarian disaster that's happening, what would you do at this point? >> okay. danny, why don't you take that. >> with well, this is exact wily the topic of the op-ed that we have in tomorrow morning's new york times. and my own view, just to preface it, is that i -- as desirable as the scenario that a my interlocutors have laid out a transition into a post-assad democratic syria, those were the hopes of the early days. and even the early days of the
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war. but it's just receding from the horizon. it literally wasn't even discussed in geneva. and so i think precisely this is why my own focus has shifted now to maybe a more manageable piece of the nightmare, the humanitarian crisis. our own proposal that we lay out in this op-ed is that theup security council -- the u.n. security council needs to pass a resolution. france has already made suggestions that it is ready to take the lead on this and in putting this resolution forward. and the resolution would stipulate that these we sieged -- besieged areas, the sieges that are now starving hundreds of thousands of syrians to death must be lifted. and this would be directed not only to assad's forces, but to any armed actors who interfere with the delivery of humanitarian aid, block food and medicine from getting in to
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these starving civilians. the idea is there should be no rejections to this in principle, but we know in reality that the russians have been rather recalcitrant and very unwilling to push the syrians to agree to any of this. they've blocked several u.n. resolutions already, three since march 2011. so it might have to happen without russian approval and, therefore, without the imprim tour of the u.n. security council, and so then what happens? we argue it's time to rethink the responsibility to protect doctrine like kosovo where you would have an intervention that is technically illegal but ethically and politically legitimate in the eyes of most of the world. i -- we can't think of a good counterargument to this, i mean, tactically is one thing but ethically what's the argument against allowing these humanitarian convoys in with food and medicine? should assad have the sovereign reek to starve -- right to
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starve people to death? is we argue, no. even if you can't get the legal architecture together for a u.n. security can council resolution, there is a higher principle at stake here. and that assad should not be allowed -- and, for that matter, any rebel militia who stops these convoys from going in. and so we are arguing for the use of force. we believe that the mere threat of portion, by the way, could be enough to makes a sad back off. as we -- assad back off. as we saw in late august, early september, obama's proposed strike did set in motion a process many which assad scrambled very quickly. he was all too eager all of a sudden when the russians proposed their deal to hand over the chemical weapons that he adjust claimed he didn't have. i don't have them, but herer the. >> so let me go into the audience, because i know there's a lot of questions, and i want to make sure we get -- right there, man with the white envelope up, please. >> with great emotion, i can
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listen. you're raising the hope that something will happen and how great the syrian cause it is, but nothing will happen. excuse me to say, it's not an irony to see assad taking the chemical withins. assad now is a partner, and he is in power until june until he ends that chemical weapon. so really that was a trap we fell in because we don't want to do anything. assad -- >> relate me just ask -- let me just ask you to get to the question. of. >> yes. the question is assad is the hurdle, assad is the map who's doing -- the man who's doing all the killing. assad is stopping everything. and behind assad is russia and the united nations. if you don't want to do anything to stop the russians, then go to the united nations and bomb him. i don't think without getting rid of him you're going to get anywhere. i think that's what you're going to say in your op-ed, if i understood it correctly, that
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eventually we're going to go and bomb syria the way we were planning before the call weapons. >> so let me bring it back up to the floor here. >> well, you know, i think you raise a very important issue. just to bring it back to this op-ed that danny and i have written, our op to ed really deals with the symptoms, not with root causes. and as you correctly pointed out, the root cause of this conflict is the fact that in syria one family has been in power for 44 years presiding over a prison state, and when people rose up, he crushed hem brutal hi, and the conflict predictably shifted into a military direction. so you have of to deal with root causes. i'm very skeptical of geneva process, but one of good things at its core, the key can elements in the communique is that the core of the process has to discuss and revolve around a transition to a post-assad syria, a transitional government with executive authority.
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now, you know, other elements to that geneva process that are problematic, but focusing the conversation on how do we get to a transitional government, i think, is the right way to go. the problem is that assad has no incentive to come to geneva and negotiate anything. whiled he come to -- why would he negotiate his own disempowerment unless he is forced and pressured to do so which is why, i think, we have to change the battlefield conditions. i i think what we should have cone a long time ago -- done a long time ago is still on the table. it still matters. we need to send a message that we in the world, in the west, in the united states have a stake in this conflict. we need to put our cards on the table, start backing the more moderate elements of the syrian opposition. we need to provide them with greater support and sustenance to change the equation on the ground, and then i think assad will be much more willing to negotiate. you're right, as long as he stays in power, we are going to have a scenario where this conflict is going to continue. and, you know, assad is not someone who is able or willing in my view to negotiate anything
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because he basically is, you know, presiding over a criminal enterprise. >> well, speaking of negotiating, i mean, we have failed and the russians have failed to convince the assad regime of these humanitarian, minimal steps that you guys have been talking about; get people out of these dangerous zones, get food, etc. and i think one problem you look at the diplomatic end is that we are using the russians. the key player with syria is rapp. we're talking to iran, but we're talking about nuclear weapons. we should be talking to them about changing their behavior and bashar's behavior on the ground, and that's the problem with our democracy, with our, with our negotiation in geneva. iran wasn't even invited. they're not being talked to. >> right. >> about things that they can influence. >> let me go right here, the guy in the striped sweater right there. you've been patient. yes, right there, right there. right to your right. >> you mentioned that the use of
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force may have to be necessary in in the syria conflict, but why would you say here at home there's this what i think is an unfortunate held perception that it'll just become another iraq? >> the very first essay in our book, in fact, is titled "syria is not iraq." it's written by shadi hamid of the brookings institution. it's a very, very important's sate that i encourage everyone to read. sorry for the shameless plug for the book. [laughter] obviously, iraq matters enormously in this discussion. the shadow of iraq looms very, very large over syria. specifically what i mean by that is i think there probably would have been an intervention in syria by now had it not been for the iraq war.
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.. >> so we are talking what is going on with respect to syria today. and i would just say that the differences between a rock and syria are vast. think of it this way. and i'm sure that there are people in this room with a very
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different position. in the case of iraq, as brutal as saddam hussein was, at the time of the invasion was proposed in late 2002 and 2003, there was no ongoing real-time unfolding genocide or mass atrocity in iraq. there was a brutal state, but it was not an unfolding humanitarian crisis area the case had to be essentially engineered and fabricated and some would argue rather deceptively. we don't need to relitigate what has happened but just comparing that to syria. and then in syria you have the office. you have the worst humanitarian chastity in recent history. you have over 100,000 people dead and more people dying
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everyday. yet there is no intervention. some would argue that we actually have over learned the lessons of a rock. i would argue that the people of syria are paying dearly and tragic before the catastrophe that was the arauca or. >> this is an important point that comes of up all the time. a fundamental and analytical air. either we do nothing illegal in with 150,000 troops in the and stay there for 10 years. there are dozens of other options that can be used they can make a difference. one of them is we can on the moderate syrian rebels and we can simply just use our diplomatic skills in a much more meaningful way. if obama were to employ a high-level investor inch and him to the major capitals and use the threat to say that we are not going to stand aside and watch this unravel, that we are going to do what quentin holbrook did 20 years ago. i think that that will start
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things rolling. it's something that iraq is completely distorted. it means that we have to go when with these troops and repeat what we just experienced in the middle east. but no, there are many options that we need to start considering. >> a gentleman right in the middle of the room there. >> hello, good evening. i am from harper college. my name is andrew. my question is can you go back into the sectarian element, if it is perhaps genocidal where a lot of mass killings take place. what might be the goal is to is removed from the country enough of the sunnis and christians and other folks so that we have a larger component and a bargaining chip for peace. i would love to hear your views.
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>> if you have a sense of history, minority groups and majority groups in the middle east have gone along broadly speaking white well. they haven't always been at each other's throats. it's happening at a particular point in time due to political reasons. and i think we need to understand this with sectarianism and minority rights. any solution to future for syria has to revolve around minority rights being protected and protected by an existing security system. the only lesson in history that i think that we can learn is that syria is not the first country that has struggled with this question as to how to minorities gain protection. broadly speaking the lesson in history that a process of sustained democratization was a constitutional process that protects the minority rights, that minorities are finally able
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to gain protection. they have to be part of the conversation. but the idea that this is what you are suggesting, of breaking up syria and creating a state or removing people, population transfer, i think that will create a lot more political problems. now bashar al-assad, to his credit, he has been manipulating secretary and sentiment. but he is performing the role of both the arsonist and the firemen. what it's to his advantage is sort of manipulating the sentiment. and then he's acting as a protector of the minorities. there is no long-term solution for syria, particularly for the minorities while he's in power. it has to go away. it has to be removed. there's a lot of complicated and difficult questions in terms of what you do with the fall of that in the interim process and
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can you get somewhere better. that's very difficult and trying. minorities have a lot of legitimate concerns. and i think that that has to be part of the diplomatic process and the conversation. that is how i see it. >> what you make of the argument of those who are saying that there may have been a time very early on where the u.s. involvement could've made a difference. and maybe there was a window where he could've shifted. for all the reasons that we talk about, this has gotten to be a no good outcome. the u.s. doesn't have a particularly good track record of getting involved in these conflicts and solving them to our liking, if you will. especially given where we are now after a rock in afghanistan, there's lessons from libya, lessons from iraq that it goes back to where it started as long as the u.s. is better.
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so we are where we are now. there are many who want to fight against the u.s. and are looking or this opportunity for the u.s. to get involved. so what are the interim solution that you are advocating that will allow us to extricate ourselves and the syrian people from this horror at their end? >> well, those are good questions. i would argue that it we haven't gotten involved in the right way. i think if we had gotten involved at the end of the first year, when the syrians were really begging for external assistance for a no-fly zone for serious funding of the moderate opposition, we wouldn't be where we are today. so there are risks. there's no guarantee by providing air cover and arms that it will all work out.
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you know, the way we wanted to. there will be challenges. but all things considered, the current policy of sitting back and watching syria not do anything seriously, it is having huge consequences for the syrian people and our own security as well. so i think the conversation needs to change. there is a report that was leaked last week. it's off the record. a pen apparently senator john kerry in a conversation with some of his colleagues of the senate privately admitted that the policy has basically failed. the chemical weapons are not being moved around in any significant way. there's no hope that geneva will produce anything and al qaeda is getting stronger. according to this private report that has been written in "the new york times", he is arguing for arming the moderate opposition and not allowing this process unfold, taking a different shot. and that is from one of the architects of the policy.
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so i know that there are big challenges here and there are also challenges and rest of not getting involved and just staying on the sidelines. >> i basically agree. but i think to get back to your question that the time for a big intervention that would have essentially toppled the regime is gone. that would've been in the first nine months of the uprising weren't peaceful and democratic. the first two months of the armed conflict before the june party members came in and before al qaeda was pervasive on the ground. i think that was a much riper moment and it would've been the time to intervene. that is why my own arguments have gone for him the big picture intervention to the micro-intervention focus specifically on protecting civilians on the humanitarian issues. >> i would say there are a lot
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of options here. the or six months it was peaceful, and the next six-month when it was primarily the free syrian army that was operating. and there were options on the table. no boots on the ground from other ways of doing things. but we wasted a lot of time debunking the opposition in saying that they are disorganized and they're no better than they are this and that. so these minimum options we face. after that it gets much more competition. >> redeker police, please come to the microphone. >> thank you. one of the lessons of the administration of the handling of the chemical weapons issue last august and september certainly must be that if you threaten the use of force, you have to be prepared to carry out that threat. you are talking about using the threat of worse to bring bashar
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al-assad to the negotiating table in a serious way. you are talking about using the threat of force to try and find this and this includes so humanitarian assistance can be brought in. but which country or countries have you identified that will step forward and make that threat and be prepared to carry it out to further negotiating process as well as trying to make progress. it's clear the united states is not going to do this. it's clear nato is not going to do this. so where is this deck that you
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repeatedly called for. where is it going to come from? >> of the united states has agreed to do it, no one is going to do it. if united dates agrees to do it, then many countries will run on board and there is a less than here. in the case of libya. nothing could happen unless the united states sign on board. in the united states is really dragon and was primarily a european operation. they let the campaign. and so i think that is why the debate in this country is so critical. >> we are all making the case that the u.s. should do something. and i say that there has to be some kind of use of horse for a capability out there. but we could also lead with the promise of what we are doing right now and what we are doing is not exactly not being clever and our diplomacy either. >> but i do think that there are signs that france and the uk are
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prepared to move forward with something like this plan of action that we have outlined. the french foreign minister said when asked specifically how this resolution seems to be poised to introduce, would involve invoking chapter seven of the u.n. charter, which would mean the threat of force to enforce its resolution. he was a bit cagey about it. it's not clear how far france is willing to go. but i think that there are strong signs that france and the uk are almost there. and i think it is because it is limited to the humanitarian element and if you open up the bigger picture of siding with the rebels, engineering this transition, you lose lots of political common ground and you're not going to get an incentive from that if you can limit it to this one question of
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getting food into the siege areas, the starving civilians. >> i want to move to a speed down here. mike, you have been very patient. do not track asked the question. what are the implications to other countries in the region like turkey and saudi arabia. israel as well. seems like there is a problem with our reaction. >> the implications were clear early on. they have all started to happen. first of all the government is divided for the regime and against the regime and there is a proxy war already taking place to the extent that we have been working hard to build a politically neutral state in
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lebanon and this is already fallen by the wayside and what is going to be coming out is dangerous for everyone of us. jordan has already been shaken. the position they're is very tenuous. he is holding on and following good strategies, i think. but internally things could break apart. turkey already has some repercussions. also as islamic related as well. and rock may deteriorate rigor than any of them, it may go back worse than what it was a few years ago. now, in for the first time, this is a result of the continuation of the chaos in syria. and there's no going back. i've heard that the share market
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can no longer guarantee the kind of stability, if you want to call it that. the kind of arrangement that existed before. he cannot go back to that. and as you heard say, he is responsible for the deterioration. but they have a tenuous situation that they never had before and that will continue. the best way to ms's reach a compromise and have a transition of the government and then deal with the security situation. >> okay, we have time for just a few more questions. you've been very patient. the second row? >> doesn't affect us as a big and powerful nation? [inaudible] >> the president said that
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bashar al-assad must go, him being there has been enormous problems for the united states and our credibility in the region. >> yes, that is already half of it with the implication. [laughter] do not okay, sir, right instrumentally question. the fact is during this meeting in january, about 10,000 people were killed in syria. how long do we need to be in geneva to continue and how long will it keep going at this rate? >> that's a good question. we should have had a president obama. >> i have been talking about what should be done. bashar al-assad is happy to go to geneva because he will keep talking and tort of make it seem like he is serious am a trying to deflect serious attention. because he will know this process for as long as he can
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while people suffer on the ground. he is reported to have once described his relations with western countries is a game of tom and jerry. i think we are seeing this in this way. >> one more question in the middle there we met. >> raise your hand. >> i think you short-circuited the discussion of iran in your analysis. it appears to be a rough response with iran, even if that relationship with traditional allies, ron will do everything in its power, as i see it to keep bashar al-assad and power. and if we go to remove him from power, and undermines what obama is trying to do.
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>> yes, i know that we didn't plan to discuss this. but there are lots of indications. they were stronger earlier on that iran was willing to see some kind of a change in syria. what they really wanted was not bashar al-assad as a person. they had certain interest and if those interested in how be taken into account, they might consider them. but we are not even talking to them about that. so my problem is the deal with nuclear weapons, it's insufficient on the issue of nuclear weapons itself. and it's not at all comprehensive and that the real problem is the behavior in the region and is hezbollah in the confrontation with saudi arabia. not even talking to them about these issues. if we were, you would at least have a chance. i'm